Reflections in the Eifel Mountains

The Nurburgring is still the Nurburgring and though one or two bits have been altered it is still a great driver challenge and with a lap speed of nearly 115 m.p.h. for the 22.8 kilometres (14.1 miles) of ups and downs and twists and turns, the only flat part being in the start area, it must represent Grand Prix racing in one of its best aspects, along with Monaco for street-racing and Francorchamps for high-speed racing.

The maximum speed reached at the Nurburgring today is about 175 m.p.h. and this is not achieved on the undulating main straight but on the long left-hand sweep down from the Flugplatz to Aremberg before the sharp descent into the Fuchsrohe. After the race Stewart wrote in his column in the “Daily Excess” that he had not driven a perfect race and had made a number of mistakes during his 12 laps. He went on to say that he thought no one could ever be perfect all the way round the Nurburgring as it was too long and too complicated.

Presumably he is too young to know about Ascari, Fangio and Moss who all reached instant perfection on the Nurburgring. I say “instant” because with such a complex circuit a car’s characteristics must change during a race as fuel loads diminish and tyres wear or change temperature, and by the time a driver returns for the next race some technical improvement must have been made to his car so that he has another set of standards to achieve. In 1952/3 Ascari must have come as near to the ultimate perfection on the Nurburgring as anyone, as did Fangio in 1957, and in 1961 Moss put in a number of laps in succession within tenths of seconds of each other, and on the limit as well, for he had the whole Ferrari team chasing him, the Italian cars having far more horse-power than his Lotus-Climax four-cylinder had.

For me Stewart did not do the perfect race for he was not the fastest in the third practice session and he did not lead into the first corner, nor did he make fastest lap; but it was not far from perfect. It is interesting that a lot of people are singularly unimpressed when Stewart runs away from all the opposition and they make remarks like “boring”, “dull”, or “unimpressive”. When Clark did the same thing in 1965 everyone said it was marvellous and he was the greatest driver. A few years earlier when Moss also did the same thing everyone sang his praises all the time, even when he lapped the entire field during a race. Why don’t the same sort of people say the same thing about Stewart? Is it that they are very discerning people and can see that the overall standard of Grand Prix driver today is pretty low by some standards we have seen? Or is it something personal against Stewart’s character, or his attitude to motor racing in his publicity business, or a reaction to his apparent desire to alter everything to suit his own ends, or is it that he has abandoned his native Scotland to reside in the no-man’s land of Switzerland?

I am not talking about the people who know him, work with him or employ him, but you and you, who watch it all from the public enclosures or on the Television, or merely read about Grand Prix racing; ordinary readers who I meet outside the pits and paddock, and I do meet an awful lot of them. The sort of people who were all round Brands Hatch during the Race Of Champions and who cheered loudly when Regazzoni took his Ferrari past Stewart and into the lead; the sort of people who used to cheer Brabham when he got into the lead of a race or cheer when a BRM did well and who went berserk when dear old Graham Hill won at Silverstone. These people are the real racing enthusiasts who will always be at races long after the high-pressure glamour boys have moved on to some other sort of sport, the sort of people who will still support motor racing when it sinks to a very low ebb, the real racing enthusiasts. Why, I ask myself, are they not over-enthusiastic or appreciative of the fact that Stewart and the Tyrrell team are dominating Grand Prix racing in the same way that Clark and Lotus dominated it in 1965?

I understand that Ken Tyrrell and his designer Derek Gardner are not over-enthusiastic about their domination either, even though they have now achieved a 1-2 in the French GP and the German GP. I should say over-confident, for this is a point on which we actually agree. Stewart’s victories with the Tyrrell car are without question, but Cevert’s two second places were inherited rather than won. I am not denigrating Cevert’s achievements, far from it, for he has done a splendid job in just over 12 months of Grand Prix racing and has proved an ideal pupil for Stewart and Tyrrell to mould into a strong number two driver. The day cannot be far off when Cevert achieves second place on the grid alongside Stewart and the two dark blue Tyrrell cars run first and second from start to finish. When they do that they can be considered to have dominated the scene, and at that point Tyrrell and Gardner will be satisfied that they have done a perfect job. If it happens a second time then I hope Tyrrell will tell Stewart to ease up on the last lap and let Cevert win, like Fangio did with Moss in the 1955 British GP at Aintree, for the young French boy will have earned such rewards.

Before leaving the Elf-Team Tyrrell it was said at the Nurburgring that the prototype Tyrrell car, 001, was for sale, but the suggestion that you could have 100,000 Green Shield Stamps or two March 701 cars thrown in as a bonus was not true. Looking at the large blue Ford signs that are becoming more and more evident in Germany you are suddenly aware that they are in Tyrrell Team blue; or have I got that the wrong way round?

At one time the practice arrangements at the Nurburgring pits was such that you could set off from your pit, go round the South Curve, up the straight behind the pits and then turn sharp right through a gateway back onto the pit apron so that you then passed the timekeepers’ sighting line. As you did this you raised your arm to indicate that you were about to set off for a full lap and wanted to be timed. At the end of your lap you crossed the line at full speed, continued on round the South Curve, up behind the pits and back through the gate to your pit. If you did not do this you could set off from your pit and do the 22.8-kilometre lap before you crossed the timekeepers’ line, and if you came into the pits at the end of that lap you still were not registered officially and many drivers in the past were bewildered when told they had not done a practice lap.

Recently an Armco wall has been built along the front of the pits so you can no longer come through the gate and onto the start and finish apron, so now you go a bit farther up the straight behind the pits, turn left at the North turn, and then sharp right onto a loop road that runs round behind the Dunlop tower and joins the start and finish straight on the brow after the Tiergarten bends. To the timekeepers all cars now appear from beyond the Dunlop tower so they record all their passages. If they come by again in a couple of minutes it is obvious that they have merely been round the pits loop, but if the time gap is in the order of seven or eight minutes they have obviously done a full lap.

This pits loop circuit is very useful as a driver can go round and round on it until he has everything warm and to his liking, and then he can set off round the full circuit by taking the North Curve and going straight on over the bridge instead of turning sharp right onto the pit loop. Once over the bridge you are committed to the downhill plunge to Hatzenbach and the whole 22.8 kilometres of the Nurburgring—there is no turning back. Watching drivers in practice it was interesting to try to decide at which point they would make the decision to set off into the unknown, a decision they would presumably make as they braked from 140 m.p.h. for the North Curve.

All this works perfectly well except that it could confuse the timekeepers if a car was stopping and starting in and out of the pits on the pits loop, and two passages over the finishing line happened to be 7 min. 45 sec. apart. Timekeepers can only concentrate on time of passage and car numbers, and the timekeepers’ clerks can only go on the figures they are given, so that behind the scenes a time subtraction could give a reasonable lap time for someone who never actually went all round the circuit! Throughout practice there were discrepancies in the timekeeping and they may well have been caused by use of this pit-loop circuit. Equally they may have been caused by poorly-sited numbers on the cars, for a number might be quite clear when seen from ground level but not so clear when seen from the height of the timekeepers’ box. It was interesting that when Peterson was given a grid position further forward at Zandvoort than he should have had the STP-March team did not say anything. When he was put further back than he should have been at Nurburgring there was an awful scream from STP-March. I think this is what people are referring to when they talk about “the professional approach”.

At the French GP a BRM dropped from second place when an ignition coil packed up; at Silverstone they lost another second place when a coil-mounting broke and at Nurburgring a coil failure lost them second place. It was all put down to vibrations from the tyres either breaking the mounting or shaking the innards of the coil to pieces. Now they think that the cause may be high-frequency vibrations coming from the engine so the coils should be repositioned for the Austrian GP and perhaps we shall learn more.

These tyre vibrations, which are this season’s phenomena, having had “acquaplaning”, “Black-box failures”, “dropped valves”, “injection pump troubles”, “high-pressure fuel pump troubles”, “drive-shaft failures” in previous years, are producing some interesting reactions. After the German GP Regazzoni was saying that the vibrations were still bothering him, while Andretti, in a similar car, was asking “What vibrations?” The Regazzoni supporters countered this by saying Andretti wasn’t going fast enough to suffer from them. The Andretti supporters said it was probably because he was used to driving turbo-blown four-cylinder Offenhauser-powered cars, so that anything else seemed smooth by comparison. One thing is certain and that is that the previous three Grand Prix races to the German GP had lulled the teams into an air of complacency. Zandvoort was too wet to learn much, Paul-Ricard and Silverstone too smooth and too flat to need much thought, so that the steep dips and humps of the Nurburgring found everyone wanting in the springs, shock-absorbers and strength of chassis components departments and there were a lot of headaches. As the March cars broke up or fell apart it was explained that March had never been to the Nurburgring before, but then neither had the Tyrrell team with the Tyrrell cars, though they did have a lot of Matra MS80 knowledge to draw upon.

If all the Grand Prix races were run on Paul-Ricard-style billiard-table circuits we would not learn much, would we? Perhaps today’s racing engineers don’t want to learn anything, or perhaps they know it all already. I am sure that last remark is not true.—D. S. J.